FPI Overnight Brief: May 14, 2012

Middle East/North Africa

Iran

Increasingly hard-pressed to find buyers for its petroleum, Iran has been routinely switching off satellite tracking systems on its sea-bound oil tankers for more than a month, in what U.S. officials and industry analysts describe as a cat-and-mouse game with Western governments seeking to enforce sanctions on Iranian exports. – Washington Post

The lead negotiator for the six-nation group bargaining with Iran over its contentious uranium enrichment program said Friday that she hoped to achieve “the beginnings of the end” of the dispute at the next meeting, to be held in Baghdad on May 23. – New York Times

Iranian crude oil exports fell sharply again in April and could be down by as much as one million barrels a day this quarter as many countries reduce imports ahead of sanctions that come into effect on July 1, the International Energy Agency said Friday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Henry Sokolski writes: Obama’s 5 percent solution will cease to be dangerous only if it’s rejected by Iran and everyone else. Once that is accomplished, we need to move in a very different direction. – National Review Online

Yuval Porat writes: Our findings demonstrate that Iranian society as a whole is characterized by a pro-liberal value structure that is deeply at odds with the fundamentalist regime. This presents considerable potential for regime change in Iran and for the development of liberal democracy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Syria

After three decades of persecution that virtually eradicated its presence, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has resurrected itself to become the dominant group in the fragmented opposition movement pursuing a 14-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. – Washington Post

The organizations, which include groups that teach methods of nonviolent resistance, share a goal of finding a bloodless way out of Syria's crisis—an aim that has so far eluded protesters on the ground, the political opposition in exile, and world leaders alike. Their founders and members say they are seeking a "third way" that isn't asking for foreign help or seeking to bring down President Assad in fighting. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

As rallies against the Syrian government broke out across the country after Friday prayers, some marchers turned their anger against the United Nations as well, lamenting that violence has continued despite the presence of blue-helmeted interntational observers. – LA Times’ World Now

North Africa

As Mr. Moussa runs for president in an election that starts this month, he is trying to turn his greatest liability — a long career in government — into a strength. In a race that seems to have come down to a few leading candidates, including Mr. Moussa and two Islamists, the former foreign minister has positioned himself as the experienced, tolerant choice. – New York Times

As Egyptians prepare for what many hope will be their country's first free presidential elections next week, an impasse between liberal politicians and Islamists over a new constitution means candidates are vying for an ill-defined role. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Coptic Christians, whose forefathers lived in Egypt before the arrival of Islam, had hoped that the 2011 uprising that ousted authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak would give them equal rights. Instead, things have worsened. Egypt’s Christians have been the victims of threats and dramatic violence, and they fear the ascendance of political Islam. – Washington Post

Some [militias] have simply replicated the worst tortures that were carried out under the old regime. More have exercised restraint. Almost all of them have offered victims a chance to confront their former torturers face to face, to test their instincts, to balance the desire for revenge against the will to make Libya into something more than a madman’s playground. – New York Times

Other countries have dealt with the aftermath of large-scale state property seizures — notably after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. But Libya’s challenges are magnified by weak transitional authorities, the absence of a working court system and a flood of weapons in civilian hands. – New York Times

Algeria’s governing party strengthened its rule in parliamentary elections this week, officials announced Friday, dampening hopes that the vote might bolster the standing of opposition voices and eliciting audible gasps of skepticism from many of those who heard the results at a hilltop hotel here. – New York Times

European Union observers on Saturday gave a qualified endorsement to Algerian parliamentary elections that were dominated by the governing party, bucking the trend of the Arab Spring revolts. - Reuters

Gulf States

Saudi Arabia and the tiny, troubled kingdom of Bahrain are expected to push toward a broad security and economic union on Monday, an agreement that regional power Saudi Arabia hopes will spur a similar tightening of ties with other Gulf countries. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Josh Rogin reports: Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa came to Washington this week to attend his son's college graduation, but he left with hands full of gifts from the U.S. State Department, which announced new arms sales to Bahrain [Friday] – The Cable

Yemen

President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, met with Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, on Sunday, a day after a stepped-up campaign of American airstrikes reportedly killed 11 militants allied with Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. – New York Times

Iraq

In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here. – New York Times

[T]he jockeying to succeed [Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] has quietly begun, and Iran is positioning its own candidate for the post, a hard-line cleric who would give Tehran a direct line of influence over the Iraqi people, heightening fears that Iran’s long-term goal is to transplant its Islamic Revolution to Iraq. – New York Times

Bomb blasts aimed largely at security forces in western and central Iraq killed six people and wounded several more on Sunday, a relatively violent day after a few weeks of calm across the country. – New York Times

Israel

When Netanyahu and the leader of the centrist opposition party Kadima joined forces, they said their first priority would be a law ending widespread military exemptions for full-time religious students. Long-neglected, the issue has spiraled into a public policy nightmare – Washington Post

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said Saturday that his security forces were struggling because Israel had refused to allow them to import a shipment of weapons, and that he was “very, very, very afraid” of what might happen if one of the Palestinian prisoners on a long-term hunger strike died. – New York Times

Palestinian Authority officials said Saturday that they had arrested the man they believed was responsible for the May 1 shooting at the house of the governor of Jenin, who died hours later after suffering two heart attacks. – New York Times

Interview: Capt. Sassi Hodeda, 47, the senior naval officer in charge of developing electronic combat systems, explained to The Times why Israel's military is looking increasingly to the seas. – Los Angeles Times

Editorial: If Mr. Abbas or a successor chooses to focus on peace talks rather than internal Palestinian politics, Mr. Netanyahu will have the strength to seriously bargain, if he chooses to. The Obama administration should be pressing Mr. Abbas to put the Israeli leader to the test. – Washington Post

Turkey

Mustafa Akyol writes: If Turkey succeeds in that liberal experiment, and drafts its new constitution-in-the-making accordingly, it can set a promising example for Islamist-led governments in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. All of these countries desperately need not only procedural democracy, but also liberalism. And there is an Islamic rationale for it as well: Imposed religiosity leads to hypocrisy. Those who hope to nurture genuine religiosity should first establish liberty. – New York Times

Asia

Afghanistan

Faced with an order from President Obama to withdraw 23,000 troops by the end of the summer, and the prospect of further reductions next year, Allen is hastily transforming the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. – Washington Post

A senior Afghan peace negotiator who once served in the Taliban government was shot dead in Kabul on Sunday, in yet another blow to attempts to find a negotiated end to the war. – Wall Street Journal

International donors called on Sunday for an inquiry into potential mismanagement of the United Nations-administered trust fund that helps pay for Afghanistan's fledgling police force, even as the U.N. reiterated its support for the program and denied the accusations. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Shimmering more than 1,500 feet up in the daytime haze, or each visible as a single light blinking at night, the balloons, with infrared and color video cameras, are central players in the American military’s shift toward using technology for surveillance and intelligence. – New York Times

As the U.S. military embarks on the task of extracting itself from America's longest war, the phenomenon of members of the Afghan security forces turning their guns on Western troops is becoming, in the eyes of some commanders, a strategic threat. – Los Angeles Times

The Afghan government on Sunday said it is taking the lead from the U.S.-led coalition for providing security in areas that eventually will make up 75 percent of the country’s population. – Associated Press

David Feith interviews Gen. H.R. McMaster (USA): Gen. McMaster makes clear, in light of Clausewitz's 200-year-old warning not "to turn war into something that's alien to its nature—don't try to define war as you would like it to be." – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

India's defense ministry has approved a proposal to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers from U.S.-based BAE Systems Inc. for about 30 billion rupees ($560 million), a senior defense ministry official said Saturday, as the South Asian country continues its efforts to modernize its armed forces. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

India’s intelligence agency sparked outrage in Pakistan and self-deprecatory jokes at home this week after it listed ordinary Pakistani shopkeepers as terrorists on a mission to attack some of India’s landmark institutions. – Washington Post

India's industrial output unexpectedly slumped in March as high interest rates stifled expansion, deepening worries of an economic slowdown that would pressure the central bank to ease monetary policy further despite inflation risks. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Democratic and Republican leaders of the congressional oversight committees are urging the Obama administration to formally designate Pakistan’s Haqqani Network a terrorist organization, something the lawmakers said the State Department has been reluctant to do while it pursues negotiations with the Taliban. – LA Times’ World Now

China

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng expressed concern for the safety of his extended family on Friday amid reports that his nephew had been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, and said he hadn't met with Chinese officials since Monday. – Wall Street Journal

Residents said that since Chen fled to Beijing, the reign of fear has expanded beyond Dongshigu to at least three other close-knit villages in the city of Linyi, in the eastern province of Shandong. – Washington Post

If the drama over Mr. Chen’s fate has placed a harsh spotlight on China’s capacity for repression and created a diplomatic migraine for the White House, it has also been something of a boon to Mr. Fu, 44. His organization, ChinaAid, is at the crossroads of a growing movement among American Christians agitating for religious freedom in China and the wider dissident network inside the United States, as well as members of the underground church in China trying to practice their faith in a hostile environment. – New York Times

China's economy slowed sharply in April—from industrial output to bank lending to foreign trade—throwing cold water on expectations for a rapid recovery in the world's main growth engine, and putting pressure on Beijing to shift policy decisively into stimulus mode. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

A decision by China’s central bank to loosen monetary policy is not an antidote by itself for emerging weakness in the Chinese economy and is likely to be just the start of a broader program of economic stimulus by the government, economists said on Sunday. – New York Times

China's leaders started to reach into their economic-stimulus tool kit this weekend to boost flagging growth, but the measures don't pack the wallop they once had. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Tibet’s spiritual leader told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that sources inside China’s Tibetan regions had told his entourage that fake female devotees might be coming to try to kill him with poisoned scarves and poisoned hair. – WSJ’s India Real Time

Nicholas Bequelin writes: Rights activists and whistle-blowers like Chen have to endure various degrees of police harassment and suppression, and the government remains hostile to the precondition for any reasonably functional legal system: an independent judiciary. But the fact is that the rule of law has become a central demand of the Chinese citizenry, and grievances are increasingly framed in the language of rights. The law matters. – International Herald Tribune

East Asia

Lee’s moves were initially intended to pressure Pyongyang to liberalize its economy and give up its weapons program…Now, those measures have taken dramatic effect, with South Korean executives vowing never again to do business with the North, fearing vulnerability to Seoul’s policy changes. – Washington Post

With the health of Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the former president, deteriorating rapidly, the government is holding firm, throwing Mongolia’s young democracy into turmoil in a crisis freighted by dueling accusations of corruption and human rights abuses. – New York Times

The South Korean military is on a shopping spree this year. And the biggest deal of all – approximately 60 new fighter jets – is nearing the bidding deadline. – WSJ’s Korea Real Time

The three largest East Asian economies agreed Sunday to find ways to strengthen regional trading ties and to work together to ease political tensions in the area. – Associated Press

Southeast Asia

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak flew to Myanmar on Monday to meet its leaders and discuss greater economic cooperation, becoming the latest international leader to visit the Southeast Asian country after its recent embrace of political liberalization. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

China's Defense Ministry, apparently responding to online rumors fueled by a standoff with the Philippines in the South China Sea, denied that it was making preparations for war. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

India’s Ministry of External Affairs urged China and the Philippines to “exercise restraint” and resolve their brewing row over ownership of a set of islands in the South China Sea through diplomacy. – WSJ’s India Real Time

Security

Defense

Debate has broken out over the nearly $4 billion in increased defense spending that the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee added to the Obama administration request in the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, pitting the panel’s chairman, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), against Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. – Washington Post

In response to growing concern about problems with its F-22 Raptor fighter jet, the Air Force revealed it has slapped on new safety restrictions to protect its pilots. – Los Angeles Times

The Air Sea Battle (ASB) concept initiated by the U.S. Navy and Air Force is an effort to make the most of the combined military capabilities of the U.S. The objectives are to carry out the strategies of U.S. commanders and defeat those of an enemy — traditional goals to be sure, but the ASB concept brings together a much wider matrix intended to match capabilities and threats in more efficient ways. – Defense News

U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants to establish a worldwide network linking special operations forces (SOF) of allied and partner nations to combat terrorism. – Defense News

Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly write: The Budget Control Act was a piece of national-security folly, for which congressional Republicans deserve a good share of the blame. But the relish with which Democrats, including Panetta, are playing a game of political chicken with the U.S. military is inexcusable. – The Weekly Standard

The War

Top U.S. lawmakers called for criminal charges against the person who leaked classified information about a recent foiled Yemeni bomb plot, warning that the intelligence breach posed a danger to national security and ratcheting up scrutiny of its source. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

A former military commander with Al Shabab, the Somali terrorist group with ties to Al Qaeda, has become a cooperating witness and is expected to testify for the United States government in a trial this summer in Manhattan, prosecutors have disclosed in a court filing – New York Times

International Affairs

Kori Schake writes: The president has often said in the context of the wars that we can't care more about building democracy than they -- the country affected -- does. The same holds true for budgeting: The Obama administration shouldn't expect us to care more about building civilian capacity than they do. – Shadow Government

Missile Defense

Anders Fogh Rasmussen writes: NATO missile defense is based on solidarity and cooperation among 28 nations, on both sides of the Atlantic—nations that face a common threat, share common values, and are committed to defending our common security. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Cybersecurity

The Pentagon is expanding and making permanent a trial program that teams the government with Internet service providers to protect defense firms’ computer networks against data theft by foreign adversaries. – Washington Post

Russia/Europe

Russia

In the great tradition of Russian authors as wielders of public authority, a group of prominent writers strolled along a Moscow boulevard Sunday, and thousands of white-ribbon-wearing fans joined in…But the peaceful stroll was all about rigged elections, political corruption and President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post

As Vladimir V. Putin begins his third term as Russia’s president, it is clear, at least in Moscow, that something in the political atmosphere has changed. Russia’s protest movement appears to have entered a new and unpredictable stage, and Mr. Udaltsov, one of its most prominent leaders, is at the center of a debate about its future. – New York Times

Forget the youthful bloggers, pro-democracy crusaders and TV celebrities who launched Russia's five-month-old movement of street protests against autocratic rule. The anti-Kremlin crowd has a new unifying symbol: Abai Kunanbayev. – Wall Street Journal

Jackson Diehl writes: As the [Magnitsky Act] moved toward a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, senior White House and State Department officials demanded that it be postponed until after Putin’s visit to Camp David. Now that Putin has canceled, maybe it’s time to put human rights in Russia back on the agenda. – Washington Post

Janusz Bugajski writes: The tug of war over the General Assembly presidency illustrates the escalating campaign a resurgent Russia is waging against former satellites that are now an integral part of the European Union and NATO and dependable allies of the United States. – Washington Post

Belarus

ARU TV is one of a number of media and education outlets created and operated by Belarusian dissidents abroad to confront the state-controlled media, promote free speech and challenge the Lukashenko regime’s oppressive hold over the country. – Washington Times

NATO

François Hollande may have pledged on the campaign stump to pull France’s combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, but analysts expect the president-elect to do his utmost to reassure NATO allies that France is a solid partner when the alliance chiefs meet in Chicago later this month. – Defense News

Despite claims by Turkish officials about vetoing Israel's participation in major NATO summit, a senior U.S. official says the alliance never intended to invite Israeli leaders. - DOTMIL

Americas

United States of America

Mitt Romney’s recent declaration that Russia is America’s top geopolitical adversary drew raised eyebrows and worse from many Democrats, some Republicans and the Russians themselves, all of whom suggested that Mr. Romney was misguidedly stuck in a cold war mind-set. – New York Times

Analysis: Dozens of subtle position papers flow through the candidate’s policy shop and yet seem to have little influence on Mr. Romney’s hawkish-sounding pronouncements, on everything from war to nuclear proliferation to the trade-offs in dealing with China – New York Times

Africa

West Africa

Separate attacks in northeast Nigeria likely carried out by a radical Islamist sect killed at least seven police officers Sunday, witnesses said, the latest violence to shake the bloodied region. – Associated Press

East Africa

The current class of 3,500 Ugandan soldiers, the biggest since the camp opened five years ago, is preparing to deploy to Somalia to join a growing international force composed entirely of African troops but largely financed by Washington. – Washington Post

Ugandan troops captured a top Lords Resistance Army commander, Caesar Achellam, in the jungles of the Central African Republic as the hunt for fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony enters a decisive stage, the Ugandan army said Sunday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

South Sudan independence in July has cost Sudan three-quarters of its oil revenue, paralyzing the nation's economy…Things aren't any better in South Sudan, which has shut down oil production in a row with Sudan over transit fees. – Los Angeles Times

Andrew Natsios writes: Only redressing the imbalance of military might will convince Bashir and his generals that fighting won’t solve the two countries’ profound political crisis. The Obama administration must arm the South Sudanese with antiaircraft weapons to create a stalemate and get the North back to the negotiating table. – Washington Post

Obama Administration

CIA Director David Petraeus has largely gone dark—and, like most things with the decorated war commander, that is very much a calculated change - DOTMIL

William Inboden writes: The administration's foreign policy successes have generally come when they have followed Bush administration strategic frameworks, and their greatest missteps have come when they tried to go in different directions. Such a pattern does not necessarily bode well for the administration's hoped-for second term policy priorities – Shadow Government

Democracy and Human Rights

Eli Lake reports: Davos is an annual European conference where the well-to-do meet to do good. The Oslo Freedom Forum, on the other hand, is a European conference of do-gooders conspiring to stir up trouble. – The Daily Beast

Editorial: Ms. Suu Kyi's odyssey is, as Havel's was, a reminder that defeating tyranny is often a lifetime struggle. Kudos to the Human Rights Foundation for inaugurating a prize celebrating those who threaten to bring down the world's oppressors. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More